Last Month in Pop Language: Post Malone, Bill Clinton, and Other June Low Points

by Molly Rosen Marriner

This is our fourth installment of Last Month in Pop Language, a column where the most popular (statistically) song, book, and film of the month will have their words analyzed in hopes of drawing a conclusion about language’s current usage—and future. At the end of each monthly column, we’ll draw a conclusion: Was last month’s pop language masterlymalevolent, or merely meh?
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Movie: The Incredibles 2

Gotta love Pixar: Even though The Incredibles franchise is for the PG crowd, it isn’t afraid to be cerebral and wordy. (I mean … author Sarah Vowell is an Incredibles voice actor.) While I’m not thrilled that Pixar—and movie studios in general—continue to invest in retreading franchises rather than creating more Coco-style originals, I still support The Incredibles 2‘s mission: a strong, female-led family saving the world locally and globally.

Much like I let it slide that The Incredibles 2 is a sequel, I’ll also let slide that the sentences are short and the language is unchallenging. It’s a kid movie! It’d be hard to hammer in the feel-good morality with SAT-level vocabulary.

That being said, we naturally found some literary devices in the film:
  • alliteration: “Over Dusseldorf, Doozles are dozing…”
  • wordplay: Screenslaver (a character’s name)
  • callback: Dash Parr: “Wait, I thought you renounced superheroes.” Violet Parr: “Well, I renounce my renouncement!”
  • rhetorical questionViolet Parr: “So, are we going to talk about it?” Bob Parr: “What?” Violet Parr: “The elephant in the room.”

Song: “Psycho” by Post Malone Featuring Ty Dolla $ign

There’s really no way around it: Post Malone is terrible. (And, he didn’t even have the #1 hit at the time this article was written—while “Psycho” peaked at #1 this June, the top song for most of the month was Drake’s “Nice for What,” which we already featured in April.)

Malone is only 22 years old … but has the facial tattoos and conspiracy theories of a much older alt righter; “Psycho” is a brag track about the young bro’s staggering jewelry collection. The song’s repeated opening and titular lyric—”Damn, my AP goin’ psycho … Can’t really trust nobody with all this jewelry on”—refers to his fancy timepiece of choice, an Audemars Piguet “AP” luxury watch. Yup: the song’s about how sweet Post’s possessions are. He really is just that simple and shallow. This makes the apocalypse and weary-child imagery in the song’s popular video feel especially unearned, and even makes us long for the more complex days of … Drake. Feel free to watch for yourself below.

To find a literary device in this song was hard, to say the least. Check them out:

  • euphemism: “You stuck in the friend zone”
  • anecdote: “Had so many bottles gave ugly girl a sip”
  • internal rhyme: “Come with the Tony Romo for clowns and all the bozos”
  • juxtaposition: “Saint Laurent jeans, still in my Vans though”

Book: The President is Missing by Bill Clinton and James Patterson

Finally! A work of fiction is #1 for the first time since Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Getaway in November 2017. (And, having sold 250,000 copies in the first week, it’s the best-selling fiction since Go Set a Watchman.)

Expectations for this novel, about a president getting into impeachment hot water for … accusations of dealing with terrorists, are mixed: while Clinton is an accomplished author, with 1000-page tomes like My Life under his belt, Patterson is airport-reading at best. We leave the zingers to The New Yorker‘s Anthony Lane: “William. Bill Clinton, who can write, has hooked up with James Patterson, who can’t.”

Working with a president and intellectual Rhodes Scholar doesn’t seem to give James Patterson any more subtlety than usual. The President Is Missing drains the genre for all its usual cliches: an average Joe white male protagonist, plot twists, a beautiful lady-assassin. (Huh, guess Clinton couldn’t resist.) It avoids subtlety basically.

But: It’s a novel, so it’s gotta have the standard literary devices.

  • metaphor: “The sharks are circling, their nostrils twitching at the scent of blood.”
  • mixed metaphor: “We have a lot of balls in the air right now, trying to monitor and defend against this threat. The other shoe could drop at any minute.”
  • hyperbole: “I haven’t opened my own car door for a decade.”
  • oppressive male gaze: “It’s a role she puts on like any other, a coat she puts on when necessary and sheds as soon as she’s done, but she can see it’s working: the men trying for eye contact, checking the cleavage she’s sure to reveal, allowing just enough bounce in her girls to make it memorable.”

Verdict: Middling Meh

When a month’s sole cultural redemption comes from a sequel for a children’s movie, you know it’s a low month for language. June’s words are empty—Clinton and Patterson write tired thriller tropes and descriptions, and Post uses played-out literary devices to describe his wealth and jewelry. It’s been a month without a ton of originality or sincerity, and we’re hoping for better in July. Fingers crossed that Won’t You Be My Neighbor will storm the box office? Time will tell.

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Molly Rosen Marriner is a writer, editor, and basset hound aficionado who lives in Oakland, CA.

Want to see Molly’s verdict for May … check it out here!

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